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Northwest Arkansas continues to produce popular music acts. The venerable blues-rock Cate Brothers still perform regularly, as do the younger jam-rock groups led by B Side and the Sarah Hughes Band. But the club music scene seems to be suffering.
Randy Stratton, who runs the entertainment company started by his father, Dayton, during the late 1950s, says, “Back in the old days, the music was off Dickson Street, but today when you talk about live music it’s Dickson, and it’s slumping, according to the club owners.
“I don’t go poking my nose into the club owners’ business, I just go on what I hear, but the lines are shorter, and you hear the sad-song thing. Dickson Street is down … The Cate Brothers [whom Stratton represents] say they’ve seen it slump off a bit. Times have changed for the younger set. They’re more into the techno entertainment. And the older folks don’t get out as often or stay out as long.”
Stratton and his family operated the Rink, west of town on Highway 62, for 35 years before selling that landmark, which featured some big names in live music (Joe Walsh and the James Gang, Van Morrison in Them, the infamous Zorro and the Blue Footballs) but now is set up as a remix, techno hip-hop/billiard club. In and around Dickson Street and the town square, J.R.’s Light Bulb Club dropped live music last year and is now called Tangerine. The Dickson Street Theater hasn’t had any live music of late. George’s Majestic Lounge, which in the 1980s became a favorite live music joint, and the Gypsy almost stand alone as contemporary live venues with touring acts, though Jose’s and Benson’s Bar & Que have some live original music. The Dart Club on North College brings in heavy metal groups.
Stratton notes that today, Fayetteville’s style of music is all over the map, unlike the days of the Rockwood, Tee Table and Shamrock clubs with rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll. Those latter two buildings no longer exist; Ronnie Hawkins’ Rockwood Club on Highway 71 near the Fayetteville Country Club became St. Michael’s Disco Alley in the late 1970s and today is used for office storage.
“Maybe the market still isn’t big enough to support all the diverse styles out there now. I just think it’s a slump and will come back around,” Stratton said. “It’s no fault of the club owners, they’re all bringing in decent talent. Sometimes college towns can be real fickle.”
Stratton, whose booking business takes him often into Oklahoma, says, “Stillwater [home of Oklahoma State University] had its ups and downs, and Norman [home of the University of Oklahoma] is starting to rejuvenate around Campus Corner and is starting to happen again, but it went through a slump two or three years ago.”
It’s the major cities in the region — Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Tulsa — Stratton says, where live music is flourishing.
“Here in Fayetteville, in the late 1970s, early ’80s, disco took over, but live music came back around,” he said. “It’s a little different this time. We’re inundated by more types of entertainment from everywhere. There used to be three TV networks, and now you have dozens just on basic cable. It’s the same analogy with going out, there’s so much more than just live music to do.”